Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

What’s in a pie?

Saturday, July 2nd, 2011 by xgz

Back from Beijing now and recovering. One thing you do and do a lot in China is to eat in restaurants. One of our favorite places to go is 汉莱 (hanlai) in 中关村 (zhongguancun). This is an upper scale buffet restaurant with Chinese, Japanese and Western foods. Normally such upscale restaurants do not have any bad translations – they can afford to hire competent people. This time, however, we found something really hilarious. There was a food item labeled “corn sent”. The Chinese said 玉米派 (yumi pai). This is a very interesting type of mistranslation. The word 派 (sound “pie”) obviously is transliterated from the English word “pie”. But its Chinese meaning is “to send” or “a faction.” Thus the mistranslation. (more…)

Zhonglish in New York

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010 by xgz

A warning sign at the entrance to “the world-famous roller coaster known as the Coney Island Cyclone” in New York:
Zhonglish in New York

The Super Adorable Liu Ba (translation)

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 by Mei and Lara

This translation is based on an essay found on many Chinese 3 Kingdoms sites. Unfortunately I couldn’t track down the name of the original author. The characters and events in this essay are based on historical records, not based on the novel. Read on to find out why it’s a popular little piece on characters from the 3 Kingdoms period.

Liu Bei once said that winning Zhuge Liang’s service was like a “fish winning his water.” It was an emperor-minister relationship that’s been the envy of hundreds of later generations.

The three visits to the straw cottage has to be our best-known legend. But if you think getting Zhuge Liang was Liu Bei’s most arduous recruiting task, you’d be wrong. (more…)

How do you say “Restaurant” in English?

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 by Mei

There are numerous pictures of hilarious translations, but this one is hard to beat …

From Sasu’s blog: My Tibetan Friend, and Tibetan Affairs

Saturday, April 18th, 2009 by Mei

This translation was motivated by a rather inconspicuous comment a good friend of mine made in her blog. She watched the 2009 Chinese New Year Gala on TV in a friend’s house, and made various observations about the gala, in her usual humorous style. I was all itching to leave some comments of my own on her blog, when the last sentence of her article jumped to my eyes – it was an off-hand remark: “… at least three hours in, no mention of Tibet; but then you’re only supposed to think happy thoughts during Chinese New Year.”

It was an innocent remark that nevertheless stung, as if a dear friend suddenly started to joke about my family problems in a party. She was of course not the first one of my friends who talked about Tibet, since the issue has practically become a fashion statement in the west. But taking a side in someone else’s family dispute is one thing, joking about it like enjoying a comic show is another. I was so put off by the comment that for a couple of months I couldn’t find a way to talk to her. (more…)

Three Kingdoms Chapter 37

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008 by Mei and Lara

In the last chapter, we learned that Liu Bei had started to enjoy a few military victories against Cao Cao’s powerful army, thanks to his new advisor Xu Shu. But then Cao Cao kidnapped Xu Shu’s mother in the hope of luring Xu Shu to his camp. Cheng Yu, one of Cao’s advisors, managed to forge the old lady’s handwriting, and using it he sent a letter to Xu Shu requesting a reunion. Filial son that he was, Xu Shu felt compelled to rush to his mother’s side. But realizing that this would leave Liu Bei without an advisor, before his departure Xu Shu recommended that Liu Bei recruit his friend Zhuge Liang as his replacement.

Chapter 37 (podcast)
Liu Bei needed a genius, Crouching Dragon would be best;
Visiting Zhuge’s straw hut three times, he passed the sincerity test.

So Xu Shu rode day and night to the capital city, Xuchang. Cao Cao sent his whole council of advisors to greet him, including the famous Xun Yu and Cheng Yu. Xu Shu first went to visit Cao Cao in the Prime Minister’s mansion. Cao Cao probed him, “You are a wise and talented man. Why did you demean yourself by serving Liu Bei?” Xu Shu answered, “War drove me from my home when I was a child, and I’ve been blown about by the winds of fate ever since. I wound up in Xinye, where I happened to meet Liu Bei, and we became friends. But now that you’ve brought my mother here, I have come to take care of her.” Cao Cao replied,”It will definitely be more convenient for you to fulfill your filial duty while you’re here with us. And perhaps I could also have the good fortune to hear your sage advice.” Xu Shu thanked him courteously, and then left, in a hurry to reunite with his mother.

New translation of Luo’s Three Kingdoms

Monday, September 29th, 2008 by Mei and Lara

Here we begin our new translation of Luo Guanzhong’s classic historic novel Story of Three Kingdoms. Our intention is to make a more casual version, in the spirit of those told by the teahouse storytellers.

Here is a little background for friends not yet familiar with the Three Kingdoms story: In the chaos at the Chinese imperial court in the waning days of the Han Dynasty, the great but unscrupulous strategist Cao Cao has arrogated almost all power to himself, but claims to be working in the name of the emperor. Warlords and rebels are all over the country, burning, pillaging and staking their own claims to power with their own armies of followers. Liu Bei, one of the protagonists of Three Kingdoms, is a distant relation of the imperial family, although he earns his living as a weaver and seller of straw mats and sandals. Yearning to help the emperor and restore peace and order to China, he becomes sworn brothers with two other men of martial ability, Zhang Fei and Guan Yu, and they swear to live and die together while working to restore the Han dynasty. But without much in the way of money, power or official recognition, it takes them a long time to establish themselves as serious opposition to Cao Cao.

Tackling Two English versions of Dream of the Red Chamber

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007 by Lara

My first attempt at Dream of the Red Chamber was via the 1996 abridged translation by Hsien-yi Yang and Gladys Yang. I believe their approach is one in which they left out chunks of the actual text, but translated the rest very accurately. This resulted in my being really drawn in by dramatic events, like the way Hsi-feng deals with that over-lusty Chia Jui, or the big fight over Chia Lien’s adultery with Pao-erh’s wife. But sometimes starting new chapters would leave me feeling as if I’d just stepped off a cliff, since years seemed to have passed since the previous chapters’ events. And I was much more interested in Hsi-feng than in either Pao-yu or Tai-yu, who seemed tediously willful and relentlessly morose, respectively. The details of action were wonderful, in other words, but I missed the point overall.

But I know that this is the most popular book in Chinese history, and figure that 1.6 billion people can’t be wrong. So I’m determined to find out what’s so great about it. (more…)

Why are translations of Chinese so long in English?

Saturday, May 19th, 2007 by Lara

Moss Roberts’s translations of Three Kingdoms is three volumes long; the Jenner translation of Journey to the West takes four volumes in tiny print. I’ve seen these books in Chinese, and each one is one volume long, in nicely-sized Chinese.

OK, Roberts’s translation includes a lot of maps, history and notes so we westerners can figure out the details of the action, but there’s no such excuse for Jenner. Why do translations of Chinese go on so long? It’s a little intimidating to novice non-Chinese readers.

A Tale of Three Translations

Sunday, May 13th, 2007 by Lara and Mei

Here are three different ways to translate the same Chinese text from the opening paragraph of the “Story of Three Kingdoms”. The first version is a direct, close translation by Mei. The second version is reworked by Lara. The third version is a looser translation by Moss Roberts, a sinologist who published a translation of the whole book. Vote on your favourite approach (poll at the end):